When I turn on the news lately, I can’t tell which is worse: the fake news, the real news, or the real news resulting from the fake news. Just last week a man from Salisbury, NC drove from his home to Washington, D.C. and entered a restaurant with an assault rifle under the false belief that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring there. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
Advent couldn’t come at a better time for America. Advent: the four weeks leading up to Christmas, which are a time of quiet preparation, of penance, of reflection. Looking back at the divisiveness of 2016, I know my soul could use a period of quiet reflection.
Just three days after Thanksgiving, Advent started, along with the rush of madness that our consumer culture pins on Christmas. After the turkey, the family, and the football, my husband and I suddenly were in a frenzy, realizing we were missing that extra week in-between the holidays that helps to get a grip on the upcoming tasks.
The day we returned from our Thanksgiving trip, we purchased our tree and placed it in the window as we do every year. But we wouldn’t have time to decorate it until the following weekend, which meant that I’d be putting on the lights at some point during the week. Several days later, I began my job as Christmas Tree Lighter.
With Christmas music filling the air, I painstakingly wrapped lights around branches for about an hour before stepping back to admire my work. I smiled at the bright tree, when all of a sudden, it went dark before my eyes. All of the lights except for the two older strands I started with at the bottom turned off at the same time! I spent another hour trying to identify and repair the problem, removing one strand, hooking up the remaining strands – which lit up! – only to watch it all go dark again after a few moments. I used two of those Lightkeeper Pro guns, which I began to curse as a gimmick when they didn’t fix any of the strands. At one point, I looked around to see if someone was playing a prank on me – no one’s luck is this bad! I sent my husband to the store multiple times to purchase more lights. Eventually I had to give up in order to make it to an appointment, a Godsend for my psyche.
That night I lay awake in bed trying to figure out what was going wrong with those *^&# lights. The next morning, clearheaded, I resolved to make the tree light up. My previous strategy of removing one strand at a time had failed, and I was left with no choice but to remove every strand and start over. I had to set aside my feelings about it and just do the job. And I had to get rid of the noise; that morning I needed peace and quiet.
I Googled the question, “How many strands of Christmas lights can you plug into one outlet?” Instead of a direct answer such as “8,” Google suggested a math equation including amps, watts, voltage, and number of bulbs on the strand. The equation didn’t consider my 91-year-old house that uses knob and tube wiring, so even if I understood the math, I still had an unknown variable in my wiring.
So by trial and error, I separated the lights and plugged into two separate outlets; I reduced the total number of strands, and hoped for the best. It worked! I stood and watched awhile to make sure there were no more electrical gremlins out to get me.
My tree-lighting experience this year, frustrating as it was, illuminated the need for me to step back and reassess. I need some quiet, or the noise of the world will overtake me and I’ll lose my direction. The shopping, the news, the pressure of the calendar, all obstruct my perspective if I don’t stop regularly and allow God’s voice to come through. The voice is always there, but I don’t hear it if I don’t listen. If I constantly slog through my to-do lists and treat each day like business as usual, eventually my lights will burn out and I’ll be in the dark, forced at last to reckon with my wiring.
All Americans could all use a little Advent right now – both Christians and non-Christians. We can use this season to turn down the noise and chaos, take a break from social media and the daily sales events, and tune in to the quiet. It can help heal our wounds, it can help heal our relationships, it can calm and offer perspective.